East Hartford Public Schools violated civil rights - WFSB 3 Connecticut

East Hartford Public Schools violated civil rights

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East Hartford Public Schools were found to have violated civil rights after the U.S. Department of Education said they failed to provide "adequate language services" to parents.

The U.S. Department of Education announced that schools violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The act "requires districts to address language barriers and prohibits discrimination based on national origin in education programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance." 

“Through this agreement, East Hartford Public Schools has committed to correct its registration and enrollment process to ensure that its schools are open to all students and that it treats all its students fairly,” Catherine E. Lhamon, who is the assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Lhamon said the East Hartford Public Schools "will continue to work with the district to implement this agreement and support the district’s efforts.”

The Office for Civil Rights examined the district’s enrollment and registration policies, procedures and practices after a compliance review was launched in 2015. They were trying to "determine whether LEP (limited-English proficient) parents and guardians received similar access to information as compared to non-LEP parents and guardians, and whether the district discriminated against national origin minority students."

However, the Office for Civil Rights found that East Hartford Public Schools violated Title VI and did not provide "adequate language services" to limited-English proficient parents and guardians. The review found the following items: 

  • The district told LEP parents and guardians to provide their own interpreters to register students.
  • The district did not properly assess whether LEP parents and guardians required language services.
  • The district failed to provide any training to its staff serving as interpreters, including responsibilities regarding confidentiality and use of specialized terms.
  • The district translated fewer than half of its registration and enrollment documents into Spanish, the highest incidence language for LEP parents and guardians.
  • The district failed to provide any written instructions regarding obtaining oral translation of registration and enrollment documents for LEP parents and guardians who speak languages other than Spanish.

Following the findings, East Hartford Public Schools agreed to do the following items after the Title VI violations: 

  • Revising its registration and enrollment policies, procedures, and practices to comply with Title VI. 
  • Providing appropriate, qualified, and competent interpreters and translations during the enrollment and registration process. 
  • Issuing a “Notice of Language Assistance” in the district’s 10 most commonly spoken languages about the district’s free translation and interpreter services. 
  • Requesting only permissible material and information from all students registering and enrolling in the district.

To read the full resolution agreement, click here.

To read the full resolution letter, click here.

On Wednesday, the East Hartford superintendent of schools released a statement that said "The East Hartford Public Schools was dismayed that, without prior notice and an opportunity to comment, the Office for Civil Rights issued an inaccurate press release about a voluntary agreement between it and the East Hartford Public Schools designed to enhance the services provided to undocumented students and limited English language proficiency students seeking to enroll or enrolled in the East Hartford Public Schools.

The East Hartford Public Schools has a strong record of commitment to enrolling and delivering a high quality learning experience to every child in the district regardless of citizenship status or national origin.  Out of approximately 679 identified English language learners enrolled in the District, approximately 573 speak Spanish as the predominant language in the home. Although the predominant language after English is Spanish, the District works with families who speak 36 different languages.

When the Office for Civil Rights began an audit of the District’s enrollment procedures in early 2015, nearly two years ago, the District informed OCR that it welcomed any technical assistance that OCR could provide with regard to improving its procedures.  Although the District timely provided information to OCR at that time, OCR did not provide any information to the District about any deficiencies in its procedures.

OCR again contacted the District earlier this year for additional information and again was informed that the District was ready and willing to revise any of its practices or procedures to better serve its students.  OCR informed the District that it could not provide such advice during the investigation process and that the District should not make any modifications to its procedures until that process was complete.  Thereafter the District worked collaboratively with OCR to identify how its enrollment procedures could be improved to better serve its community.

The District did not admit to any civil rights violations at the time it entered into the resolution agreement on November 10, 2016.  In addition, the District was not provided with a copy of the Resolution Letter of November 30, 2016, nor had an opportunity to comment or correct errors in that correspondence, prior to today.  The District has identified several factual errors in that report and several quoted statements that are provided out of context in a manner that makes them misleading.  The District will be addressing them in due course.

Given the collaborative manner in which the District approached this investigation and resolution process, the District is disappointed in the manner in which OCR has chosen to characterize and publicize its findings.  Although the District understands that OCR wants to use this resolution letter to provide guidance to other school districts who also are unaware of its position on these issues, any implication that East Hartford has excluded anyone from enrollment due to lack of forms, information or communication issues is unfair and inaccurate.

In fact, during the investigation process OCR staff acknowledged the extensive efforts made by East Hartford’s Central Registration staff, several of whom are native Spanish speakers, to ensure that every eligible student was enrolled despite language barriers and lack of required documentation.  Further, OCR has not made any finding that any eligible student was not enrolled in a timely manner. 

From the outset, East Hartford accepted OCR’s suggestions that some of the registration process might have a chilling effect on families who were concerned about their undocumented status and make them reluctant to enroll as such an outcome was contrary to East Hartford’s extensive community outreach efforts.  East Hartford is pleased that it has modified its procedures to address any such concerns.  It will continue to review and revise its practices and procedures to reinforce its message that all school age children living in East Hartford are an important and welcome part of its school community."

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